I'LL BELIEVE IT when I see it—when I'm in the same room, watching the two sides at the same table.
I'm talking about the negotiations over the police union contract. They've taken a six-month hiatus—a generous description—after city negotiators insisted meetings with union officials be made public.
Sources tell me informal talks got serious last week, leading to a breakthrough that will leave negotiations open to scrutiny—at least some of the time. They could resume within weeks, once both the union and the city firm up how that closed-open balance might be struck. It could mean some meetings are held off city property.
That's good news, in that the most pressing oversight issues facing the Portland Police Bureau might finally be discussed. But it's also troublesome, because when it comes to contentious subjects, shadows will linger.
As reported previously ["The Spank Heard 'Round Portland," News, March 18], interest from citizens was precisely why the Portland Police Association balked. Other city bargaining sessions have been open; it's just that until this year, no one had insisted when it came to the police union.
And what a year it's been. Officers killed two mentally ill African American men, all while the community was still demanding answers in the 2006 beating death of James Chasse.
"What they said at the table was, 'Oh, these people have no interest in what we do. There's no reason for them to be in this room,'" says Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch. "But we pay your salaries."
Since then, the union brass has turned over. Scott Westerman resigned as president amid a road-rage scandal, and Daryl Turner, the union's first black leader, was elected in his place.
Turner, though he didn't return a call seeking comment, seems to grasp the importance of PR. He has pledged to be more communicative with city leaders and Police Chief Mike Reese.
But don't think Turner is soft. Expect fights over issues from Reese's plan for annual performance reviews to proposals that would add teeth to citizen oversight panels.
On public radio last week, Turner hinted at his strategy: complaining about staffing levels—especially if officers need to spend more time in the community. Staffing, he said, "impacts everything we do."
Including, it would seem, modest attempts to rebuild trust.